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Poverty in PakistanPoverty in Pakistan rose to 39.4% in 2023. This implies there are many new reasons to prevent poverty in the country. In the past, Pakistani policymakers were tasked with finding solutions to alleviate poverty. Unfortunately, the challenges posed by economic inequality and the widespread nature of poverty hindered the effectiveness of their efforts, resulting in a limited number of successful solutions.

Fortunately, more than 183 million Pakistanis now own smartphones with preloaded internet access. This signifies that a substantial portion of the population can connect to the internet and engage with billions of other users online. Here are 8 reasons why having an internet connection can help reduce poverty in Pakistan.

Education

The benefits of school pupils having internet access include having trackers on their phones, keeping their school informed about their attendance and online schooling for those unable to access education venues in their local areas. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the crucial role of internet connectivity for young Pakistani students. Lack of access left them in isolation, missing out on valuable educational opportunities.

Terrorism

Poverty in Pakistan does have a link to terrorism because those from poverty-stricken areas are more likely to become involved in terrorist organizations. It is widely acknowledged that many terrorist organizations actively utilize the internet, particularly internet chatrooms, to spread their ideology and identify potential recruits. Given that social media serves as a primary platform for social interaction among young internet users, this presents a significant concern.

Given that social media serves as a primary platform for social interaction among young internet users, this presents a significant concern. Fortunately, the Violent Extremism Prevention Unit (VEPU) is dedicated to identifying potentially dangerous accounts and taking prompt action to eliminate them. In 2023, more than 700 potentially dangerous accounts were removed from the web, thus protecting Pakistani users from danger.

Food

Through a combination of education and access to updated knowledge on farming practices, the people of Pakistan can make significant strides in agriculture. A digital avenue facilitating this is the Kisan Card Scheme, a government initiative providing cards to farmers and information on successful productivity to farmers. This program aims to facilitate registered farmers to “get benefits from various government schemes like subsidies, loans, insurance, etc.”

Financial

To help those struggling financially, the World Bank initiated the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to act as a safety net for those struggling with poverty. Through the BISP program, Pakistani people can use their internet connections to perform an online banking interaction, after which funds can be transferred from the World Bank to support them in meeting their essential needs.

Domestic

Women in Pakistan face many issues, such as restricted mobility, limited lifestyle choices and the persistent threat of abuse. In 2013, recognizing the need for a supportive platform, Group Soul Sisters Pakistan was established on the social networking site Facebook. This private group chat serves as a space for women to share their stories and offer mutual support to one another.

Employment

Social networking plays a pivotal role in job or apprenticeship searches and its absence can impede employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Those with internet access can create accounts on platforms such as Rozee or Total Jobs to facilitate the exploration of professions that align with their skills and preferences, thereby enhancing their chances of securing employment.

Medicine

Telemedicine is a concept that can help treat those in poverty-stricken areas rurally. This helps prevent the patients from traveling miles to receive medical attention. As of 2022, telemedicine formats include virtual videos and text messages providing medicinal incite for patients, which are distributed out rurally.

Politics

Access to the internet provides an empowering avenue for the disadvantaged people of Pakistan to voice their concerns and challenge their government. Since the internet became widely available in the ’90s, individuals from various social classes have been able to closely monitor their political leaders, enabling a more engaged and informed citizenry.

– Phoebe Vaughan
Photo: Flickr

USAID SuccessesThe United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the nation’s premier agency for delivering foreign aid. Its website says its mission is to promote “efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.” Although it is based in the United States (U.S.), the agency operates all around the world, providing humanitarian aid. As an organization that has been around for more than 60 years, it has involved itself in various undertakings and acts of service. The following are some recent USAID successes.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the impact of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, people all over the world, especially those who live in poverty require assistance. The organization recognizes this, with one of the prominent recent USAID successes on its website being its COVID-19 response. The organization provided more than $10.6 billion in efforts to make the U.S. a global leader in the fight against the Coronavirus. After vaccines were released, the country also aimed to make a difference there. To that end, the organization distributed more than 682 million vaccines to 116 countries. This success was built on previous work. For example, in the U.S., it was the domestic American Rescue Plan that was put in place to deal with the pandemic. In fact, USAID had been dealing with pandemics for years, from Ebola to malaria.

Crisis in Sudan

In more recent news, USAID has been closely monitoring the ongoing political crisis in Sudan. The organization highlighted issues such as the continuing food crisis, lack of medical care and gender-based violence. Already the biggest provider of foreign aid to Sudan, the U.S. worked with USAID alongside other international partners to coordinate its response. In April 2023, USAID administrator Samantha Power announced that a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was set up in Kenya, as well as a Response Management Team in Washington D.C. Operatives on the ground are providing food, water and maternal health care.

Earthquakes in Haiti

In 2021, a massive 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti, killing 2,200 people and leaving 600,000 in need of assistance. Responding swiftly, USAID mobilized a response team on the day of the earthquake. Despite the unpredictability of earthquakes, Haiti’s 2010 earthquake prepared the team for the worst possible outcomes. Search and Rescue workers were able to do immediate work assessing the damage. USAID led the way in international efforts to provide aid. One year later, it provided nearly $60 million in humanitarian assistance for people in the worst affected areas.

The War in Ukraine

During wartime, there is a need for people to stay connected, not just with loved ones, but with fellow citizens. Apart from USAID offering humanitarian aid, it is also working with contemporary social media. In 2020, Ukraine launched the Diia app, which gives ordinary citizens more of a voice in their government and promotes their businesses. The organization provided additional funding to improve the app and expand its services during the war. This turned out to be even more necessary after the Russian invasion, where Diia helped with sharing information about airstrikes.

USAID also credited the app, noting that half of Ukraine’s adult population has downloaded it. Ukraine would like to expand the app to countries in the global south, and Moldova has shown an interest. This is still a new program, with only $650,000 set aside to promote its development thus far. But based on the trends in Ukraine, it could do great things in politically unstable countries in the future.

Fighting Hardship

These recent USAID successes show the scope of the agency’s work in fighting hardship across the world. It works with many global organizations to deliver help to countries that are less fortunate. From its robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccine distribution, to its swift assistance in crisis-stricken regions like Sudan and Haiti, USAID has demonstrated its commitment to saving lives and alleviating suffering. Additionally, its support for innovative initiatives like the Diia app in Ukraine showcases the agency’s dedication to fostering connectivity, empowerment and progress in politically unstable regions.

– Josh Sobchak
Photo: Flickr

Inequality in PeruPeru’s capital city Lima is home to more than 10 million people, which is almost a third of the 33 million people who live in the country. Meanwhile, the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa, has just one-tenth of the population size of Lima, highlighting disproportionate overpopulation in the capital. The fact that such a large proportion of the country lives in the capital city has exacerbated inequality in Peru, as rural areas mostly miss out on government programs that aim to boost development. Also, the focus remains on the urban hotspot because governments view this as the best way for the country to improve its economic status through trade and other economic activities.

In the 20th century, the population of Lima exploded, particularly after the Second World War when inward migration to the city picked up as people searched for better opportunities and living conditions. Reports suggest that Lima’s population will continue to grow to almost 13 million by 2035.

Rising Inequality in Peru

Whilst there has been a reduction of poverty overall in Peru, with poverty rates falling from 59% to 20% between 2004 and 2019. In addition, the majority of this development took place in the urban areas of Peru, especially Lima, allowing rural areas to fall behind and inequality levels to grow. In 2022, the poverty rate in Peru was 25%, as a result of a rise from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, in 2021, more than half of the country’s population was living in moderate food insecurity where the available food lacked all the necessary nutrients for a healthy life. This resulted in increasing cases of health conditions such as anemia.

Rural areas remain the home of the poorest regions in Peru, where there is a lack of opportunities to help civilians rise out of poverty. Inequality in Peru is evident through the level of schooling in years, which in Lima is double compared to the level in the country’s most deprived rural areas.

Possible Solutions

A report published by the World Bank in 2023 recommended the government promote access to better public services throughout the country, including the availability of drinking water, sanitation and electricity. Additionally, it stated the need for the government to address the informal employment sector, particularly since the pandemic, as approximately three-quarters of workers’ jobs are informal.

One big problem in Peru is unfair taxation, which fails to collect sufficient funds through income tax and instead focuses on value-added tax (VAT), which disproportionately affects the poor. In fact, the government has made no plans of reforming the tax system and instead has even made moves to reduce corporate income taxes in hopes of encouraging investment in the country. This relieves businesses of taxes, which if increased, could help fund social projects and improve the living conditions of those living in poverty. Changing the method of tax collection to better reflect incomes it would also allow the government to collect more money, which could fund social projects to reduce inequality, while also not unfairly burdening the poor.

The high levels of informal jobs also impact the government’s ability to collect income taxes. Similarly, without proper records and documentation of wages, it is impossible to collect the appropriate amount of tax, if any in the case of the work being off-record.

What is Next?

Efforts to address the disproportionate overpopulation and inequality in Lima, Peru, are crucial for the country’s development. Recommendations from the World Bank include promoting access to public services throughout the country and addressing the informal employment sector. The government’s consideration of tax system reforms could help in reducing inequality and funding social projects for the benefit of those living in poverty, thereby bringing about progress for Peru.

– Hannah Naylor

Photo: Pixabay

infectious-diseases-impacting-malaysia-during-covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has diverted the world’s attention from the spread of other infectious diseases across the globe. However, the battle of the Malaysian government against other infectious diseases has never stopped. According to Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba, despite the pandemic, efforts to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in Malaysia are still ongoing. In fact, as of March 2020, the government has updated The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations to better coordinate the measures it was implementing between controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and the transmission of other infectious diseases in Malaysia. Here is information about three infectious diseases impacting Malaysia as well as how the country is dealing with them.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever has existed in Malaysia since 1902 when reports of the first case emerged. The bite of infectious mosquitoes spreads dengue fever, resulting in it affecting a large fraction of the population in Malaysia. Most affected are those living in impoverished areas because they have an abundance of stagnant water bodies that are ideal for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes.

Surprisingly though, from January to August 2021, the Malaysian government reported only a total of 16,565 dengue cases as compared to the 63,988 cases in 2020. With an approximately 94% decrease in the total number of dengue cases across the nation, the government is optimistic about continuing and committing to the current effective measures, maintaining overall cleanliness in residential areas as well as public spaces with frequent mosquito fogging operations.

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is an air-borne infection affecting the lungs. Like dengue, it is also one of the most common infectious diseases primarily impacting those living under the strain of poverty in Malaysia. Overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential areas facilitate TB in low-cost flats all around Malaysia. On average, the number of cases documented throughout the nation has fluctuated and varied in its trend but up to 2019, around 92 in 100, 000 people have been diagnosed in Malaysia.

In Selangor alone, more than 3,500 cases have also been reported in 2020, making it essential for public awareness programs and governmental allocations to be implemented to mitigate the spread of this infectious disease in Malaysia. At the moment, the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB) is diligent in its efforts to educate the public on TB prevention and provide financial aids to diagnose and treat individuals from higher-risk groups. MAPTB is gradually making progress in educating the public about proper prevention methods and ultimately controlling the spread of TB in the country. Its plan is to do this through various online forums, conferences, newsletters and collaborations with Malaysian NGOs.

Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is most commonly transmitted through infected blood products and unprotected sex. Affecting more than 1 million people nationwide, Hepatitis B causes acute and chronic liver infections particularly in male adults between the age of 30 to 49. In rural areas with little to no access to health care, the adverse environmental conditions and lack of proper treatment among the infected are exacerbating the infection rate of HBV.

With the hopes of eradicating the threat this infectious disease poses to the country, the Malaysian government has been proactively working toward a strategic and sustainable plan to combat the spread of HBV in Malaysia via the National Strategic Plan for Hepatitis B and C (NSPHBC) to strengthen national policies regarding prevention measures, control of transmission and the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with the virus. By 2030, the government hopes to reduce the number of new viral hepatitis cases in Malaysia by 90% with proper diagnoses and treatment methods. This includes encompassing free HBV vaccination programs as well as mandated education for children and teenagers throughout the nation.

Solutions for Infectious Diseases Impacting Malaysia

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia used to receive generous financial support from countries like Japan, Denmark and Germany up until 1998. However, the country is receiving little to no direct aid to the health sector since 2000. In regards to professional and technical development, WHO remains active in providing medical fellowships and training to health care workers in Malaysia. It is also contributing invaluable advice on disease control and specialized support for disease outbreaks in the country.

Various local NGOs such as the Consumers’ Association of Penang are also supportive in their efforts to fund novel research projects aiming to create new solutions that could mitigate the spread of infectious diseases across the country better than existing strategies.

The Future

All things considered, the Malaysian government is slowly gaining a foothold in the uphill battle of preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the country. While the future remains unknown, the Ministry of Health is resilient in its implementation of more sustainable health care policies. It is also working on the development of systems to aid in the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

With the help of WHO and several significant NGOs across the nation, it is only a matter of time before Malaysia can truly gain control over the spread of infectious diseases. The country should effectively manage diseases’ effects on the country’s politics and the economy as a whole.

Low Xin Yi
Photo: Unsplash

Decreasing Poverty

With all the bad news about the pandemic over the past eighteen months, it’s easy to get dispirited about the future of the world. And indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to slide into poverty across the globe. However, over the past half-century, the world has achieved miracles in decreasing poverty. The pandemic’s setbacks come nowhere near to erasing the progress of past years.

Examining the Larger Context

The World Bank recently estimated the COVID-19 could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. This means that the current situation would force millions more to live on less than $1.90 a day. This is an enormous shift to fight, acknowledge and remain aware of. Yet, even that number pales in a larger context to the amount the world has achieved in reducing extreme poverty.

In 1981, 41% of most of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Over the last four decades, an incredible international effort has reduced that number to 25% in 2008. On average, millions upon millions rose out of poverty because of annual global efforts focused on decreasing poverty. A similar trend is visible in literacy rates since literacy and education are one of the best ways to reduce extreme poverty. Due to the pandemic, school closure and slashed budgets, an estimated 100 million more children may be unable to achieve sufficient skills in reading.

Paradoxically, global literacy has never been higher. Two centuries ago, global illiteracy rates hovered around 90%. By 1970, world literacy stood at almost 70%. Today, thanks to even more steady improvement, literacy is almost 90%. The worrying effects of the pandemic remain priorities, but the hundreds of millions lifted out of illiteracy, even in only a few decades, cannot be obscured.

Perception and Action

Despite positive trends, public perception remains negative. A 2017 survey found that a majority of Americans believe that worldwide extreme poverty rates have increased over the past twenty years. Perhaps news coverage and dismal portrayals of the situation overall have contributed to this perception. Furthermore, COVID-19 has led more people to believe that poverty is growing more desperate, but in reality, the pandemic stands as one tiny step back in a marathon of progress.

How has the world achieved such an impressive reduction in extreme poverty in just a few short decades? Though complex, part of the answer centers on the fact that much recent economic growth has taken place in populous, less-developed countries, such as China and India. These countries deserve much credit for progress in reducing poverty, yet wealthy countries like the United States have also helped by giving many countries access to the wealth of global trade, as well as spending billions annually on developmental aid.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has dragged millions into poverty around the world, but a broader evaluation gives a reason for hope. In just forty years, the way countless people live has transformed, turning poverty into the exception, rather than the norm. If this effort continues, there’s no telling how much more progress the world will make in decreasing poverty.

Thomas Brodey
Photo: Unsplash

Laos' forestsLaos’ forests may be the key to reducing poverty in the country. The World Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry created a new program titled the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project. The project, running from 2021 until 2027, seeks to help reduce poverty and kickstart the economy in Laos. The project will cost roughly $57 million and aims to alleviate the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic through the preservation of Laos’ forests.

History of Poverty in Laos

Over the past 30 years, poverty in Laos has decreased dramatically. Poverty went from 46% in 1993 to 18% in 2019, coinciding with rapid growth in GDP. Much of this is a result of farming reform as farmers “moved from subsistence rice cultivation toward the commercial production of cash crops,” increasing income for farmers. However, poverty reduction has recently been slowing down in Laos with a lack of new jobs to drive economic growth and rising inequality.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing even more employment uncertainty. There has also been a sharp decline in tourism due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures. Workers have to deal with job informality and fluctuations in demand as well. However, remittances, an income source for about 15% of households between 2013 and 2019, contributes to poverty reduction in Laos.

The Role of Forests

There are several ways that the government can ignite poverty reduction, including improving infrastructure and investing in education. However, the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project looks toward one of the main sources of income: Laos’ forests.

Much of Laos’ poverty is present in the country’s rural areas, specifically in the central provinces, which are home to an abundance of forests. The main goal of the project is to utilize Laos’ forests to increase investment in sustainable forest management and preserve the country’s “natural capital” while creating employment opportunities that will help reduce poverty. About 70% of Laos is covered in forests and nearly 70% of the population lives in these forest-dense areas. This means that forests can play a key role in igniting economic growth in Laos.

Although the economy improved consistently in the past few decades, Laos’ natural resources have not. The deterioration of natural resources makes “vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.” This degradation prompts preservation efforts to protect the forests while improving the livelihoods of the people living around them.

Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project Goals

The project focuses mainly on encouraging economic growth, which slowed during the pandemic. There are three main areas of focus for the project: conservation, tourism and production. Conservation and production relate to new jobs through investment in sustainable practices and facilities. As there is more societal pressure to obtain “good wood,” or environmentally friendly wood production, more companies are willing to invest in sustainable ways of producing wood. Consequently, this may result in nearly 300,000 new jobs in Laos.

Tourism also grows through the protection of the abundant biodiversity in Laos’ forests. Biodiversity is one of the most important, yet quickly disappearing parts of the environment. Therefore, biodiversity protection will not only help the environment but will also attract tourists who wish to see the various plant and animal species that are native to Laos, spurring economic growth.

Looking Forward

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project is one part of the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy. The project intends to utilize the forests of Laos to promote economic growth while also reducing poverty by aiding the federal government in passing legislation and designing policies to align with these priorities. The project also prioritizes gender equality, with roughly 50% of the jobs allocated to women. Overall, the project will ultimately help put Laos back on the right track to continued economic growth and reduced poverty.

– Ritika Manathara
Photo: Flickr

How Ekal Vidyalaya is Adapting for Indian ChildrenIn India, literacy and education stand as critical tests to measure success, whether in future prospects for the individual or future success for a community. After the end of British rule in the nation, the literacy rate stood at about 12%. Today, the rate has more than quintupled to nearly 70% across the nation. Even so, disparities exist across villages, provinces and states. To tackle these issues and advance the education of India’s next-generation, a non-profit organization is helping the children in the midst of a global pandemic. Ekal Vidyalaya is adapting for Indian children, continues to build schools, prioritize sustainability and maintain ambitious objectives from a variety of different chapters across not just India, but around the world.

Initial Difficulties and Welcome Surprises

As a non-profit, Ekal Vidyalaya delivers various resources and instructional services through its village-to-village outreach. Establishing schools with a teacher impacts a previously education-lacking community in significant ways. Before the pandemic, various Ekal Vidyalaya’s chapters would host different events per year to raise funds to allow various programs to continue. The Chapter President Senthil Kumar detailed to the Borgen Project how typical efforts would no longer be viable this year. Kumar shared that most of the average fundraisers are cultural events for local Indian communities in various parts of the world. It drew in between $70,000 and $100,000. He carefully notes that just “$1 can keep a school open for a day.”

Moreover, Ekal Vidyalaya seeks to grow its impact in communities 10-20% more than last year. Because of significant differences across India’s economic, geographical and social landscape, funding necessities can vary. In addition, transitioning to online events has its own advantages. Local gatherings can still survive in digital spaces. Because annual events usually bring in singers, actors, and other notable icons from India, overhead fees can be entirely forgoed. Empty seats in auditoriums are not concerns over Zoom or similar platforms. As a result, this diverts resources to more directly meet program financial targets. It makes a tangible change for rural children and has allowed the same level of grassroots fundraising to persist, according to Kumar. Adapting for Indian children might mean venue changes and alterations from a traditional schedule. However, it seems that sacrificing the fundamental missions is not an insurmountable concern.

An Implementation Landscape: Three Things to Know

  1. Kumar told The Borgen Project that “[About 30%] of all schools are self-sustaining.” He spoke on the long-term ability of Ekal Vidyalaya to support students and communities to utilize and provided tools for future improvement. The Standard Social Innovation Review points to “scale and scarcity.” They are the two most essential obstacles that nonprofits and organizations working in India have to overcome. To that end, Ekal Vidyalaya continues to strive forward to meet its ultimate goal of total literacy across India. With well over 120,000 schools running, supported by trained volunteers and others, a necessary review of financial disbursement comes into the forefront.

  2. The usage and allocation of the fund play a crucial role in a nonprofit’s vision. According to Kumar, funds Ekal Vidyalaya raises are divided into the following amounts: 60% is set for teachers and teaching, 27% is for training and capacity, 4% is dedicated for teaching materials and 9% is used for administrative costs. While these numbers alone don’t necessarily signal direct change, a key signifier of the nonprofit’s attentiveness to its mission. By extension, its effectiveness is its recent shift in order to facilitate adapting for Indian children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  3. Efforts in towns and communities, outside of Ekal villages, highlight wide-scale mask distributions and food outreach. There is also information campaigns that make use of Ekal resources to protect Indian communities. The teachers and volunteers served as health volunteers in many situations. Additionally, they keep villages and tribal areas safer under guidelines through checks that might have otherwise been difficult to establish and enforce. While the situation has changed, useful approaches using existing resources also testify to the resiliency of Ekal villages. In many areas, trained villagers are taught through school programs and skills sessions to manufacture materials like face masks. This is to ensure reliable incomes and necessary local health support.

The landscape that Ekal Vidyalaya functions on is perpetually shifting. However, it isn’t beyond the reach of sustained communal efforts and careful elasticity when meeting new intentions and ambitions. Even in light of a public health crisis, Ekal Vidyalaya’s work extends beyond a single facet of nonprofit capability. Due to the nature of its support and of where it’s positioned, Ekal Vidyalaya bears the capacity for change. This change happens in the relatively short term and in the long term. The education, literacy and future of millions of India’s next-generation depend on this.

Alan Mathew

Photo: Pexels

How Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 Response Averted DisasterWhen the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, Indigenous Australians looked poised to be disproportionately affected. They statistically suffer from higher rates of known COVID-19 risk factors, such as obesity. In fact, 15.6% of Indigenous Australians have three or more chronic diseases. On top of physical risk factors, higher rates of poverty and underdeveloped health care, especially in rural areas, meant that if COVID-19 spread to many indigenous communities, the infrastructure was insufficient to combat it. Yet, COVID-19 rates for Indigenous peoples remain far below Australia’s national average. Learning from past mistakes, national health officials deferred to Indigenous leaders. The leaders made sure Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response was actually tailored to their own communities.

H1N1

In 2009, the H1N1 virus, known as the swine flu, hit Indigenous communities hard. Indigenous Australians, who include both Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, constitute 2.5% of Australia’s population. However, they made up 11% of swine flu cases. Additionally, they suffered from a death rate six times higher than the national average. The health gap between white and Indigenous people in Australia has long been a problem. The government launched the “Close the Gap campaign” in 2007.  This campaign aims to bring the average lifespan of Indigenous peoples up to par with that of white Australians (71.6 and 75.6 years for Indigenous men and women compared to 80.2 and 83.4 years). The H1N1 virus clearly illustrated how large the healthcare gap really is. As of 2020, the campaign is not on the schedule to bridge this gap by its target date of 2031.

Community Leadership

What has been lacking in the unsuccessful efforts to strengthen healthcare for indigenous Australians is sufficient input from Indigenous leaders. As the lead economist at the Australia Institute Richard Denniss put it, “It is far more effective from an economic point of view to give Indigenous Australians the power to take control of the policies that affect them.” In addition to training sufficient medical personnel in rural areas, programming was key to informing communities about the dangers of COVID-19 and the necessary precautions to stop it. Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response stood to be most effective when led by Indigenous Australians. The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia shared videos on social media about the importance of health check-ups and social distancing. The videos use Indigenous people and Aboriginal Australian English. The Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service regularly broadcasts COVID-19 information using Aboriginal radio stations that reach remote and rural communities.

Results

While programming may seem trivial compared to actual testing and medical infrastructure, Indigenous Australians currently have COVID-19 at a rate six times lower than non-indigenous Australians. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group reported 146 cases in the indigenous community. Of these, only about 25% were in rural communities. Some remote aboriginal communities, such as Yakunytjatjara Lands in Queensland, closed their borders at the beginning of the pandemic. Due to these measures, Indigenous Australians’ COVID-19 response has largely been successful at keeping the virus at bay from remote communities where medical infrastructure is especially scarce.

Indigenous Australians have defied expectations largely through community tailored information and, in rural communities, exercising their sovereignty. As Indigenous populations worldwide struggle with COVID-19, Indigenous Australian’s COVID-19 response is a positive example to emulate.

Adam Jancsek
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Pakistan
Pakistan, a country in South Asia, is part of the Indian subcontinent bordering India on the east side and Afghanistan on the west. Although Pakistan’s economy is growing at an exceptional rate, its population has not reaped much of the benefits of this economic growth. There are many factors to this uneven wealth distribution and high poverty rate. In order to understand the wealth gap and poverty situation, here are six facts about poverty in Pakistan.

6 Facts About Poverty in Pakistan

  1. The percentage of people in poverty in Pakistan in 2018 was 31.3%. According to the Business Recorder, the percentage of people in poverty in Pakistan could jump to 40%. By numerical standards, the poverty population will increase from 69 million to 87 million by the end of 2020. A value of 87 million is quite high in proportion to the country’s population of 212.2 million.
  2. In 2018, Pakistan suffered a macroeconomic crisis. The government had accrued a budget deficit of $18 billion by the end of 2018. As a result, this forced the government to limit its spending. The economic growth slowed significantly. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further brought the economy to an almost standstill. This has forced the government of Pakistan to cut down on its spending. When a country’s economy shrinks, the government stops funding many welfare programs. Consequently, the people at the margins of poverty suffer, further increasing poverty in Pakistan.
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the poverty-stricken citizens in Pakistan. These people consist of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. They are far more likely to suffer from malnutrition and their health may be weak. Thus, the virus tends to spread in poverty-stricken communities faster. The U.N. has recommended that Pakistan should increase its essential health services to people in poverty because of their weaker health status. In order to improve the economy, the U.N. also recommended that Pakistan should pass fiscal and financial stimuli. This can alleviate the debt and help many people in Pakistan financially. As a result, it may prevent the poverty rate from increasing or at least slow down the growth rate.
  4. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has established a COVID-19 secretariat at Pakistan’s planning commission. Its mission is to help stabilize the economic crisis occurring in Pakistan. The planning commission will also provide social programs to help the citizens who COVID-19 affected. However, its main focus is on providing social programs to residents living in poverty. The planning commission has succeeded in assisting Pakistan in its crisis management amid this pandemic.
  5. Many children in Pakistan take up low-paying jobs in order to provide for themselves and their families. Many of these jobs are hazardous and dangerous. However, the children have no choice but to do them in order to receive any form of payment to feed themselves and their families. By 2018, Pakistan has made efforts to limit child labor and indentured servitude. Citizens still largely ignore and dismiss many of these laws, mainly due to children who willingly work in order to alleviate their families from poverty and hunger. However, Pakistan has made moderate advancements in diminishing and banning hazardous forms of child labor for children.
  6. There is some good news in Pakistan’s fight against poverty. In 2015, Pakistan’s then prime minister Nawaz Sharif launched a health care scheme for the poor. The scheme has largely been a success since it expanded. In 2019, the current prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan stated that he envisions a future for Pakistan where it can be a welfare state similar to the Scandinavian countries. So far, his administration is working on furthering this vision by raising income taxes on the wealthy and instigating more welfare programs. In addition, the government is doing its best to continue fighting poverty and providing social programs and health care to the poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The government will provide financial stimulus checks to its citizens ($70, or 11,717.89 Rupees). This program is called the “Ehsass Programme.” So far, this modest social welfare program has helped many Pakistani families financially. Additionally, the government is planning more programs in order to help its citizens amid the pandemic.

Concluding Thoughts

Pakistan’s poverty rate has decreased in recent years. However, the country’s current economic crisis, mixed with its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, has put many Pakistani citizens out of jobs. This has further increased the poverty rate. The government of Pakistan is doing its best to fight both the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty in Pakistan. So far, the government has provided many social welfare programs at a scale that they have never done in history until now. Much more is necessary for the country to defeat poverty.

Sadat Tashin
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s rural communitiesNepal’s economy is heavily reliant on farming and livestock, with 65% of the population engaging in these industries. This sector accounts for around 35% of the country’s GDP. However, many of Nepal’s rural communities that comprise the backbone of this sector still face poverty and food insecurity. Around 27% of Nepalese children under the age of five are underweight. In normal years, Nepal’s rural communities already face many challenges. According to a large sample survey of rural Nepalis, around a quarter of respondents report having to restrict meal portions during the lean season. The lean season is the period between planting and harvesting. Rural incomes dry up during this period.

COVID-19 Related Challenges in Nepal’s Rural Communities

While quarantine and lockdown have been a vital part of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it created challenges for rural Nepalis. A joint research team of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) and the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility in Kathmandu tracked 2,600 households in rural Nepal before and after the COVID-19 lockdown. The main problem that this study identified is as lean seasons arrive and grain stocks from the last harvest are exhausted. In addition, extended lockdowns could lead to more hunger and push families below the poverty line. Krishna Rana, a rural citizen in Nepal shares, “Forget about nutritious food, it has been hard to manage daily food for us.”

In a normal year, during the lean season, workers are able to travel into the cities for temporary work. However, this isn’t possible during the lockdown. This study found that the total hours in income-generating work for men have decreased by 75% since January. These statistics indicate that the COVID-19 lockdown will have profound economic impacts. Additionally, it could exacerbate cycles of poverty. As Rana’s husband Rajendra Rana says, “There’s no work I can do. It’s been tough to feed nine members in the family and I am the sole breadwinner.”

Relief Measures to Face Nepal’s Agricultural Challenges

The country’s local governments take on the responsibility of supporting Nepal’s rural communities through the pandemic. Local governments have been allocating resources like food to its most vulnerable citizens. However, these local governments express the need for additional support. As Dhan Bahadur Thapa, Chairman of Beldandi Rural Municipality says, “We lack proper resources, and the support from the non-government agencies have been very essential; through the help of them we are trying our best to feed our people.”

NGOs That Help Assist The Governmental Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. The International Institute for Environment and Development: The International Institute for Environment and Development is a policy and action research organization. It has been leading an initiative called “Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture” in Nepal. This project began in 2018. In addition, it centered around finding ways to empower rural communities both economically and socio-legally. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the research framework of this project has been instrumental in helping local governments locate the rural communities most in need.
  2. DanChurchAid (DCA): DCA provides roughly 21 million Nepalese rupees worth of support for approximately 25000 individuals. This amount supports about 4,132 families. One of the specific aims of the DCA’s COVID-19 aid programs is to target pregnant and lactating mothers. Hunger and malnutrition can result in difficulty in producing milk and sustaining a child. Thus, these mothers are especially at risk to be affected by the pandemic lockdown. So far, around 105 of these mothers receive special aid packages with nutritious meals in addition to the regular food aid.
  3. Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS): The NRCS has assisted in the response to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 18, the NRCS distributes a total of 17,933 meals.

With the support of NGOs, it is the hope that Nepal’s rural communities will be able to sustain themselves through the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent food and resource support will ensure that these communities do not face food insecurity and further poverty. It is essential that these rural communities are aided so they can continue to sustain themselves through farming and livestock rearing in the future.

Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr